A former Lowell police officer who said she was sexually harassed by male officers during a 1998 union-sponsored bus trip, then shunned by the union for filing a complaint, was awarded more than $2.2 million in damages yesterday by a federal jury.
After nearly 13 hours of deliberations, the jury ordered the International Brotherhood of Police Officers to pay $2.2 million in compensatory and punitive damages for retaliating against Vanessa Dixon, who had been a member of the powerful police union.
The jury also ordered Local 382 of the union to pay Dixon $25,000 in damages for discriminating against her based on her sex. The jury found the local's former president, Gerald Flynn, discriminated against Dixon but ordered him to pay only $1.
Wiping away tears after hearing the verdict in US District Court in Boston, Dixon said the union's national leadership ''needs to know they have to protect not only their brotherhood, but their sisterhood."
Dixon, an eight-year veteran of the force who resigned last year and now teaches criminal justice at Middlesex Community College, said she was sexually harassed and humiliated by male officers during the Oct. 26, 1998, off-duty bus trip to a political rally in Boston for then-Governor Paul Cellucci. There was testimony that officers were drunk during the trip.
She also said the union retaliated against her and defamed her reputation after she filed complaints against the officers by publicly bad-mouthing her and threatening witnesses involved in the case.
Jurors rejected Dixon's contention that she was defamed by the union. They also found that she was not assaulted on the bus by two Lowell officers, Jay Leary, who was fired as a result of the incident, and David Pender, who remains on the force and attended yesterday's verdict.
After the jury's award yesterday, Pender said, ''She doesn't deserve what she got."
Cambridge lawyer Joseph W. Monahan III, who represents the union, said the verdict was inconsistent because jurors found Dixon was not defamed, yet awarded her damages for retaliation. He said he will urge US District Chief Judge William G. Young, who presided over the trial, to set aside the verdict.
Richard L. Barry Jr., who is general counsel for the union, noted that the union's leadership changed three years ago, and added, ''We're also at a loss as to how we retaliated against Vanessa Dixon."
Dixon's lawyer, Inga S. Bernstein of Boston, said the jury's verdict means the union must be accountable to all its members, regardless of gender. ''It is simply unacceptable to treat a member of the union as they treated Vanessa Dixon."